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Sunday October 25th, 2020 12:33PM

Hall County Government phone service partially restored after cyberattack

By AccessWDUN staff

After an entire day without phone service on Wednesday, Hall County Government has had the service partially restored. An announcement on the county website said citizens may call 770-718-3284 to contact the Hall County Government Center. 

Original story 5:56 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7

A ransomware attack is responsible for a computer and phone outage that affect much of Hall County government on Wednesday, officials confirmed.

The county has enlisted the assistance of a third-party cybersecurity company to help recover the network. The company was not named.

No additional information was released about whether a ransom was demanded or paid.

“At this time, there is no evidence to show that citizen or employee data has been compromised,” the county said in a news release late Wednesday. “However, citizens and employees are encouraged to take precautionary measures to monitor and protect their personal information.”

Ransomware is a type of computer virus that threatens to publish the victim's data or perpetually block access to it unless a ransom is paid.

Many Hall County offices – including the courthouse, government center, recreation facilities and the sheriff’s office – have been affected by the outage. The county’s 911 center was not affected and is operational. Other emergency services will also continue uninterrupted, the county said. In the meantime, the sheriff’s office has set up a temporary phone number for the public to use in order to reach their administrative offices during regular business hours: 678-618-6601.

County officials initially decline to comment on the ransomware attack, but they sent out a news release just before 6 p.m.

The interruption of service began this morning. The county immediately began to investigate the cause and to work to restore operations, according to the news release. Officials said they are working around the clock through this cyberattack and are developing business continuity measures. 

Hall County becomes at least the second North Georgia county to deal with ransomware attacks. In March 2019, Jackson County's computer system was targeted. At the time, county officials said they decided to pay the hackers $400,000 rather than have the system crippled for months. But it took some time for the system to get back up and running normally. Jackson County used a cybersecurity response expert to negotiate with the hackers. The consultant paid the hackers in bitcoin and the county reimbursed the consultant.

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